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Toxic times

CR MAXINE Kiel blew up at her fellow councillors when she revealed acts of harassment, disrespect, poor behaviour, tantrums and attacking of free speech by her colleagues.

She gave a speech to remember when ending her term as deputy mayor of South Gippsland Shire Council last Wednesday.

Cr Kiel, of Mirboo North, revealed tantrums by councillors and acts of discourtesy towards council staff in a stinging attack that laid clear disunity within the council.

After only a year in office, the new council has already been torn apart by claims of councillors bullying each other.

The division is in part left over from the previous council, in which councillors Andrew McEwen and Don Hill were at loggerheads with many of their colleagues, including Cr Lorraine Brunt, who was the other councillor returned to office in the 2016 election.

Last Wednesday, Cr Brunt won the mayoral vote from Cr McEwen, six votes to three.

The split within the council remains, with councillor Jeremy Rich joining the ‘Progressive Reform for South Gippsland’ team of councillors Hill and McEwen.

A post on that group’s Facebook page last Wednesday stated, “Well, the mayoral election was quite the surprise. Cr Brunt was elected with support from all councillors except Cr Hill, Cr McEwen, and Cr Rich. Disappointing that those councillors supporting positive change were not supported by the new council.”

That trio has often clashed with some other councillors, and The Star last week learned Cr Meg Edwards and Cr Kiel were at loggerheads during the year, prompting Cr Kiel to apologise to Cr Edwards for her language.

Cr Kiel told The Star on Friday, “While there was an instance of miscommunication between Cr Edwards and myself earlier in the year, it was resolved immediately and without rancour.”

Cr Brunt called for “good working relations” among councillors, saying “all councillors will have a voice, an equal voice that will be respected and listened to” under her leadership.

Cr Aaron Brown was elected deputy mayor, defeating Cr McEwen five votes to four.

Cr Kiel’s speech contradicted previous claims by council of unity among the elected representatives.

During council’s first term, an external investigator looked into claims of bullying among councillors and found no allegations were substantiated.

In reflecting on her first year, Cr Kiel told the special meeting of council last Wednesday, “Respect is not necessarily something that is earned; it should be an automatic part of our behaviour.  It is a shame that some councillors don’t see it the same way,” she said.

Cr Kiel cited “the continual harassment of fellow councillors, the constant tantrums by some councillors and behaviour that I have never seen before in my life”.

“The lack of respect of some for their fellow councillors and staff is quite frankly, embarrassing,” she said.

“The constant belittling, denigrating and ridiculing of other councillors must cease. I am ashamed that I have not stood up sooner to defend those councillors on the receiving end of this bullying and ridicule. It makes me wonder why we have a Code of Conduct that we all signed this time last year.”

Cr Kiel urged councillors to “never question for one moment my professionalism, integrity or commitment to this organisation and the community”.

“To attack me personally is just not on, and to infer that I work behind anyone’s back, I will not accept. The community will always take priority with most things that I do, and have always done. I have lived in Mirboo North for 25 years and am well ingrained in most community groups there,” she said.

Cr Kiel’s speech prompted a strong – and unsolicited rebuke – from Cr Hill in a letter to the editor on page 12 of The Star today, in which he labels her speech “very poor and ungracious”.

“She bagged council and councillors in general and in my opinion she appears to have breached the councillor code of conduct document she signed after becoming a councillor,” he writes, adding, “In my view there has been no bullying conducted in this term of council and the three instances of unfounded allegations are just that – unfounded.

“In my view these unfounded and unjustified allegations are mischievous and disrespectful of fellow councillors and council, and I can only wonder as to the motives behind those making those unfounded allegations.”

Disunity among council was also raised by Cr McEwen in his mayoral candidature speech.

He promised to ensure all councillors were treated with respect, ensure all councillors’ voices were heard, and to work professionally with staff, councillors and the community.

“We have to restore a culture of mutual respect and promote teamwork that gets the best outcomes for the community by respecting and working with the diversity of views,” he said.

Cr McEwen finished with, “In conclusion the community does not want a squabbling council.”

Alas, that is what the community has.

Short URL: http://thestar.com.au/?p=23300

Posted by on Nov 21 2017. Filed under Featured, News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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